Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Apollodorus's The Library and Fairy Tales

So I'm reading  The Libraries by Apollodorus, as the Epitome deals with the Trojan war, and those events which lead up to it, and I came across this in the notes:

The story ran that all the gods and goddesses, except Strife, were invited to attend the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and that Strife, out of spite at being overlooked, threw among the wedding guests a golden apple inscribed with the words, “Let the fair one take it,” or “The apple for the fair.” Three goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, contended for this prize of beauty, and Zeus referred the disputants to the judgment of Paris.
And all of a sudden, I had an ah HA! moment.

Are we looking at the origin of the evil fairy of folklore? The same fairy who becomes Malificent in Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty? The fairy, who overlooked, curses the baby, rather than blessing it? (Something about 12 golden plates, and 13 fairies, wasn't it? It's been a long time since I read my complete Grimm's fairy tales.) And the origin of the evil step-mother we all know from Snow White, with Paris playing the roll of the magic mirror? This does seem to capture interesting elements from both, and I think I can confidently say that these stories pre-date the Germanic folklore which is the source for so much of the old fairy tales.

I knew the story, but I had never seen it put exactly in those terms. Now that I have, I find it difficult to believe it ISN'T the story which resulted in those other interpretations. Very interesting.

In other Apollodorus news, not having to do with Germanic Folklore, the account of Helen and Paris differs slightly from what I had taken for granted as The Story. According to Apollodorus, there are several accounts of Paris's departure with Helen. One, that they set off and stopped in Phoenicia and Cyprus by way of Sidon, to avoid pursuit, and another that Hermes stole Helen away from Paris after he had taken her, and put her in the care of the Egyptian king, replacing her with a fake Helen made of clouds, and this fake Helen was the person who returned with Paris to Troy who he married. Apparently Herodotus offers several other accounts as well: that Paris went directly to Egypt where the Egyptian king, affronted by Paris's crime, took Helen from him to keep for Meneleus to reclaim, and exiled Paris from Egypt; as well as a story by the author of the Cypria of Paris and Helen sailing directly to Troy without any stops or interference.

Whew, that's a lot of different stories. So which one is right? Who knows. The one thing they all seem to share is that Paris makes off with Helen while Meneleus is away. From that point on, it seems to be unclear if Paris made it all the way to Troy with the True Helen, or not. But even this offense would certainly be insult enough to cause Meneleus and Agamemnon to go after him. Obviously coming from a modern viewpoint which discounts the existence of the fantastic, a phantom Helen made of clouds is pretty hard to swallow. Homer's account of Helen in the Iliad does not seem to work with this story either, and his account, it seems, came first. Homer's Helen appears to be a True Helen, or if she's a fake, she's a very well done replica. Homer's Helen also clearly made it all the way to Troy. But Homer is telling a story. Herodotus is trying to tell us a history. Do we discount Homer because Helen being in Troy is a more dramatic device?

It's really fascinating to see the divisions even in the ancient world in what accounts are true, and what really happened to Helen. This gives me a lot of freedom to work with the myth, since no one seems to agree on the actual facts of the matter, beyond the two of them leaving Sparta together.


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